The 8 Keys To A Great Race

How to make race day go your way - guaranteed!

Posted: 30 July 2002

Of course, you’ve trained solidly, practised your race pace, kept hydrated all weekend, had an early night and a good, tried-and-trusted breakfast... Here’s what to do next to ensure race-day bliss...

1. Arrive early
Racing is meant to be enjoyable. Tough, perhaps, but enjoyable. So don’t stress yourself by arriving late on the big day. Aim to turn up an hour before the race start: this will give you plenty of time to collect your number if you have to, and warm up, stretch, use the loo and find out last-minute details about the course, the drinks stations and so on. Rushing is a waste of valuable energy, and missing the start gun wastes all the valuable training you’ve done for the race.

2. Stick with what’s familiar
Everything about your race should be as controlled as possible. An important event isn’t the time for experiments. Make sure that the shoes you’ll be racing in are comfortably worn in – the same goes for your vest, shorts and socks. Eat a familiar breakfast that you know you can run on, and if you’re not sure about how early to eat it, do your experimenting well before race day (most runners need two to three hours).

Out on the course, play it safe if there are energy drinks at the feed stations. If energy drinks have a potential part in your race plan (they can be useful if you’re running for 90 minutes or more), find out in advance what sort will be provided, and practise using them on training runs first.

3. Focus your mind
Prepare your mind to race. Clear your mind of bills, bank statements and other worries. During your training you should form a routine that prepares you to run; it could be stretching, sitting quietly or even chanting a mantra. Do exactly the same prior to your race. Then have a moment of quiet away from others and assess precisely what you want to achieve in this race, how you want to start off, and what pace you want to run. Be scientific with these thoughts. Do not take too long, otherwise negative thoughts may creep in. Then calmly walk to the start.

4. Start slowly and carefully
At the start, position yourself with people who appear to be of a similar ability to you. If you’re a 10-minute miler and you start off with the five-minute milers you’ll clog up the course and certainly set off faster than you should do. Experience will breed an instinct for where to position yourself.

At the gun, start moving as soon as you are able, flowing with the crowd until you can establish your own pace. Keep your hands up to maintain balance, keep your feet low to avoid tripping. If the race is not crowded resist the urge to sprint off at the start. It is easy to ruin a race by sprinting the first 200 metres.

5. Run an even pace
There are several ways to pace yourself in a race, but the method considered most effective is running at an even speed throughout. If, for example, you are aiming for eight-minute miling in a marathon, the first few miles will seem like a warm-up, but you should resist the temptation to speed up. Use a stopwatch and note the mile markers around the course to keep yourself on track. It can be worth aiming a little bit inside your target time when you calculate your pace plan – the only trouble with even pacing is that it doesn’t allow you to build a cushion of time, so a lack of concentration can quickly put you behind your race pace.

6. Consider a negative split
Another method is to start the race slowly, gradually pick up the pace, and finish fast. This is best for novices and those runners returning to races after a lay-off, and research suggests that a slower first half (a ‘negative split’) is the best route to a successful marathon. Many runners run better when they can get warmed up first with an easier pace, and pick up confidence as they start to overtake runners after a few miles. This may be the only choice if you are in a mass-participation event such as the London Marathon.

7. Accelerate late
You’re feeling good, you’re running briskly but within your limits – so when should you put the pedal to the metal? In a 10K, wait until you’ve covered five miles before hitting the accelerator, or four and a half if you’re really feeling good. In a half-marathon you can gradually step up your speed after eight miles or so. In a marathon, wait until the last two or three miles. If the race feels tough throughout, save your surge for the final 800-1200 metres, a short enough distance for a little mental toughness to be able to help you deal with a lake of lactic acid in your leg muscles.

8. Learn from poor performances as well as good ones
You may train and plan to have the race of your life but sometimes it’s just not your day. If you do have a disaster, don’t dwell on it. Give yourself an hour to be upset, but during that time try to analyse what went wrong.

Afterwards, consult your training log to see if it holds an explanation. A break of two days may provide good reflection and the rest you need. Reconsider your goals – would a race of a different length suit you better? Whatever the reason, a bad race is not the end of the world. Cheer up and look ahead: there will be plenty of chances for redemption.

Previous article
Race-Specific Speedwork
Next article
Racing Basics

raceday psychology, raceday tactics

Discuss this article

can any one give me any advice on a knee injury. i picked it up when playing
football a year ago and i have had nothing but trouble since.i was told by my doctor that i had torn a ligament and to rest, i then saw a phisio who gave me some stretching exersizes which worked but didnt get rid of it totally has anybody got any more ideas
Posted: 16/09/2002 at 20:01

Sounds like you may need to start doing some strength training for the muscles surrounding the knee joint. Either go back to the physio and ask for some or your local gym with an experienced trainer. It can take a while to recover from ligament injuries in the knee region so best to work it gradually.
Posted: 19/09/2002 at 21:10

Acupunture!!!! I can totally recommend it. I damaged my knee seriously when running and continued to try and run, damaging the other knee in the process. I had every type of therapy you can imagine, physiotherapy, plaster therapy, the worst of all, shock therapy, (which may have paved the way for the accupunture). The told me my last hope was accupuncture, failing that, they would operate on the left knee, give me 6 months to recover and then operate on the left knee. As you can imagine I prayed the accupunture would work and it did. I can now run with no problems at all and am training for the FLM, I can't believe that 2 years ago  could barely walk. I had the accupuncture every other week and had something in my ear in between times. I guess it took about 3 months, but I noticed a difference after just a couple of times. good luck.
Posted: 24/01/2009 at 11:26


Try to do some excercises that strengthen your quads. I have had knee problems my whole life, and running has always been painful. However, I have noticed that if I conciously think about 'bracing for impact' when I run, I can run with little to no pain in my knees (only everywhere else!!!). This 'bracing' action has become much easier as my quads have gotten stronger, as they are the key muscles involved. Try doing 20 or 30 bodyweight squats whenever you can find time-they work wonders!

 Best of luck


Posted: 21/02/2009 at 15:42

Try the Bowen Technique, a gentle remedial therapy working over muscles, joints and ligaments.  You'll possibly only need one or two treatments.
Posted: 21/02/2009 at 16:53

Start cycling to build up muscles around your knee.
I used to have intermittent pain from a torn ligament or meniscus, it was never accurately diagnosed.
I started mountain biking more last year, done the odd Duathlon, and my knee is great.
Posted: 13/05/2009 at 10:53

This thread's from 6½ years ago.  Hopefully Justin's OK now.
Posted: 13/05/2009 at 11:05

I dunno, knees can be a real b*st*rd.
Strange this thread was top of the current list on the RW homepage, hence my reply. I will be more observant in the future, promise.

Posted: 13/05/2009 at 12:24

The key to knees is the surrounding muscles.  If you keep those bad boys in shape it will help enormously.  I have sufferred many knees injuries and it has been the gradual build up of the quads etc that has made rehabilitation successful.
Posted: 14/09/2009 at 09:50

We'd love you to add a comment! Please login or take half a minute to register as a free member

Smart Coach
Free, fully-personalized training plans, designed to suit your racing goals and your lifestyle.